Tactics for Educating Customers on Terpenes

By: Jessica McKeil

Ask anyone working in cannabis retail what customers care about and you’ll hear a resounding consensus: THC content. Yet, THC is only half the story. Gradually, Canadian consumers are asking about terpenes—if you know how to listen.

With more curiosity at the counter, it’s the perfect time to begin having more nuanced discussions that go beyond THC. The Canadian consumer is primed to learn about terpenes.

We spoke with two Canadian retailers to find out what tactics they’re using to transform the conversation about cannabis into a terpene-rich one.

Learn to Speak Your Customer’s Language

As most budtenders will tell you, it’s rare to hear customers asking for specific terpenes by name. Outside of industry insiders, most cannabis consumers haven’t heard of linalool, pinene, or any of the dozens of other terpenes that make up a cultivar’s aromatic profile.

Brad Ingram at Ingram & Sons Cannabis Co. Photo by Todd Gilbert

Today’s cannabis consumers will ask about terpenes in a roundabout way. Maybe they’ll ask for a strain that doesn’t trigger the munchies, or they’ll ask for “a really good Kush”. Again, they aren’t asking for specific terpenes, but these requests speak directly to a terpene-driven experience.

Flavour is another way into a consumer’s psyche. Brad Ingram, co-owner of Ingram and Sons Cannabis Co. in Vankleek Hill, Ontario, reports that certain customers are asking about flavour profiles, like gassy and earthy. In his experience, when a customer tells him that they don’t like how fruity strains make them feel, he immediately translates that into specific terpene profiles.

The first step to customer education is simple: Learn to understand the language they are already using. What strains do they like? What effects are they looking for? These are all clues to help you understand their preferences from a terpene perspective.

Create a Go-to List of Terpene Talking Points

No matter what industry you work in, your sales team needs to have a go-to list of talking points to translate complicated ideas into understandable ones.

“Translate complicated ideas into understandable ones.”

Mike Burd, general manager of Harvest Moon Cannabis on Salt Spring Island, BC, connects terpenes to familiar concepts like aromatherapy.

Mike Burd at Harvest Moon Cannabis. Photo by Tatjana Liberty

He says, “A lot of people have never heard of the word terpene, let alone myrcene, caryophyllene, pinene, stuff like that. But then you start breaking it down to an aromatherapy aspect” and it resonates.

Lavender is a popular example because it’s so widely associated with relaxation. “People seem to grasp the idea of it more when you link it to scents or other [non-cannabis] products that might have terpenes in them,” notes Burd.

Ingram also has a handful of talking points to help his customers understand terpenes’ role in the overall experience. One of his favourites is the car analogy: “THC will get you high, but it’s being in a drag car and smashing the pedal down. You’re just going to go, but you have nothing driving that high or pointing you in the direction you want to go. That’s what the terpenes are going to do.”

“Make terpenes more approachable with simple terminology, familiar analogies, and real-world examples.”

It’s too easy to lose a customer by getting into the weeds, by diving into technical, overly scientific jargon to explain a terpene-related effect or experience. Make terpenes more approachable with simple terminology, familiar analogies, and real-world examples.

Invest in Your Budtenders

The more your budtenders know about your inventory, the better for your customers. Whether it’s brand knowledge workshops, provincial training sessions, or advanced sommelier-style classes, training your staff on terpenes will have a trickle-down effect on all your consumer education efforts.

Courtesy of Brad Ingram

Workshops and training are often offered for free through provincial programs or as licensed producer (LP) product knowledge sessions. These virtual events cost nothing, save for the investment in staff hours. Yet, they help foster deeper cannabis mastery among your team, who can use this intelligence in customer conversations.

Many retailers—Ingram and Sons and Harvest Moon Cannabis included—have gone beyond free product knowledge sessions. Both of these shops have sent their staff to in-person training sessions offered by CannaReps and Urbanistic, respectively.

Whether it’s Cannabis Sommelier Certification via CannaReps or a Cannabis Microscopy Course with Urbanistic, these live training opportunities offer a hands-on sensory experience going deep into the science of the plant.

Budtenders can immediately apply information from their training sessions to highlight more than just the THC percentage on the label. When a customer tries to describe what they are looking for, your staff will have the tools to discuss terpenes and make dialled-in product suggestions.

Conversations with Reps More Valuable than Marketing Materials

Both Ingram and Burd agree they are seeing more brands focus on flavour in their marketing materials, but these remain the exception rather than the rule. With dozens, if not hundreds, of rotating strains in your inventory, connecting each to a terpene profile is no easy task.

Courtesy of Brad Ingram

In part, this is because brands aren’t doing enough to arm the budtenders with product knowledge. In Ingram’s experience, his staff can’t sift through all the marketing material for the hundreds of products launching monthly in Ontario. Ingram says physical product sheets all too often just get thrown in the garbage.

Instead, the real value comes from in-person conversations with reps, especially the owner-operators repping their own brands. Burd and Ingram are again in agreement on this.

Since product one-pagers don’t always provide useful information, visits from knowledgeable reps help cut through the marketing noise and highlight a brand’s unique selling points, which are often their flavour and effects.

Educating Customers on Terpenes Starts with Your Budtenders

In all the efforts to educate customers about the role of terpenes, it’s clear that a lot is riding on the shoulders of your front-of-house staff. Ultimately, we might never get to a place where customers demand terpenes by their proper name, so it’s up to the budtender to translate a customer’s needs into a terpene-driven product suggestion.

There needs to be a lot of emphasis on budtender education. The more information and simplified talking points you can give your employees, the better equipped they will be to understand what a customer wants. Educating customers on terpenes starts with educating your frontline staff.

Main image courtesy of Brad Ingram.